College life is not like the movies, all wild weekend parties, romantic dates (unless the dining hall is romantic?), and spontaneous road trips. There’s a bunch of that stuff, sure. But most of us spend our time hustling from class to class while running on very little sleep because we stayed up the night before procrastinating . . .
Anyway, as a new student (or even as an upperclassmen), it is very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the things that occur on a daily basis, but by following some of these do’s and don’ts of campus life, you’ll be able to live each college day as productive and stress-free as possible.
Do take an extra one-unit course that’s fun
Often times different departments will offer one-unit courses that meet once or twice a week for people who just want to experiment and learn something new, or who may need a few extra credits. Many students don’t know about these courses because they are focused on their major or core requirements, but college is the perfect time to take that extra class to learn something totally different. For example, some courses I have heard of include yoga, ballroom dance, theater makeup, ballet, karate, etc. If you have the time, especially during your freshman or sophomore year, branch out and consider taking one of these fun classes.
Don’t overcommit yourself
I remember freshman year during the activities/involvement fair, I couldn’t wait to join all of these organizations and go to all of their events and meetings. But I learned, in reality, you don’t have the time or energy to do everything, so it is best to narrow your activity choices down to a few you are really passionate about or see yourself continuing after college. This is not high school, so you don’t have the pressure of doing lots of things to “become well-rounded.” Granted, you can still sign up for info and go to the first couple of meetings for several clubs that appeal to you, but you’ll soon need to pick a few favorites you can really commit to and stick to them.
Do use a planner
Using a planner seems lame and may remind you of something old people use, but I cannot tell you how many times I have heard of students missing their classes or important events because of how overwhelming campus life can become. Thanks to technology and the fact that the majority of college students use a smartphone with some sort of calendar app, there is almost no excuse to not use a planner to track your commitments.
As soon as I get my class schedule, I enter it in on my calendar app and mark those times of the day as busy and set a reminder. I also add my other regular club activities, work, everything. In addition, if a special event is coming up, I will enter that as well so I can map out my time in advance. The night before I will look at my schedule to mentally prepare for the next day’s events and to make sure I left enough time to eat, relax, etc. Although this task may seem ridiculous and even a little bit tedious, I promise it will save you stress in the long run.
Related: Time Management is Your Best Friend
Do go to RA (resident advisor) events
RAs are more than students who live in the dorms who check up on residents to see if they are following the rules. Most RAs will also routinely plan fun activities or outings for the whole hall to foster friendship and community. It is so helpful to at least know a few other faces in your dorm as you are passing through the hall, and these activities are great places to meet the people you will be living with for the rest of the year. The events will obviously vary depending on your school and RA, but some activities I’ve experienced are movie nights, game tournaments, and craft making.
Don’t neglect your mental health
A 2012 college survey done by the National Association of Mental Illness states that 27% of students suffer from depression. Other sources show mental health issues for college students are a growing problem. Due to factors such as stigma around mental illness, lack of education, and the simple fact that this is the first time many of us have lived alone, students often fail to recognize the symptoms and get help when they need it.
It is so important to take care of your mental health, whether it be setting aside time for self-care (exercise, eating right, etc.), satisfying your spiritual needs, or just talking with a friend about your stresses. If you are unsure about how to proceed or suspect a close friend is having issues with mental health, start by talking with a campus mental health advisor (often found in the health center), a trusted faculty member, or an RA.
Do get academic help if you need it
I often feel like I can’t contribute to class discussions, while my peers seem to understand every concept and participate with confidence. (Editor’s note: everyone feels like that. True story.) I am the type of person who naturally thinks I can do it all alone and finds it embarrassing to ask for help. However, since coming to college, I have learned that I must set aside my own pride and earnestly seek assistance in all aspects of college life when I need it, especially when it comes to academics. After all, I came to college to be a student first and foremost.
Schools offer an array of academic assistance, from peer tutoring to professor office hours to career centers. These people genuinely want to help you in your academic career, and their resources are very much underused, so take advantage—you’re paying for them anyway!
Don’t confuse feeling uncomfortable with feeling unsafe
As I mentioned in my previous article about diversity, it is natural to feel uncomfortable coming to college, as you will be surrounded by unfamiliar people and situations, as well as new challenges. And, often, facing those things that challenge us or push us out of our comfort zones is a good thing. However, you should definitely learn to distinguish the feelings of being uncomfortable versus feeling unsafe.
For instance, if someone says something that makes you feel uncomfortable in a group discussion because it conflicts with your beliefs, then perhaps it is wise to thoughtfully reflect on their position as well as your own. On the other hand, if someone is actively making you feel bullied, then it is best to confide with others (friends, professors, counselors) about your experience and work to create a safe environment for you as well as your classmates. And, of course, if you’re out trying new things (which is good!) but find yourself in a situation where you’re concerned about your safety or others’ (which is bad!), you should learn to trust your gut and remove yourself from that place. I believe college can sometimes be a hostile time for many students, so it’s best to be prepared. Every student deserves to live in an environment where they feel safe, respected, and able to continue their academic journey.
Do take the initiative and help plan an event
Event planning has been one of the major skills I have developed in the year and a half since I have been a college student. Through clubs and other organizations, students have the opportunity to plan various campus events, which help you develop the leadership and problem-solving skills that are valuable to any career.
Planning an event, especially ones that require money, allows students to practice preparing a budget, fundraising, communicating with outside sponsors, complying with school rules, and following through with the execution of the event itself. Even if you are not an official president of an on-campus club, you can still plan an event if you have the vision! For example, I joined my roommate and a group of students last year to plan the first on-campus charity event to benefit the homeless. We successfully created our own event webpage and sold 200 tickets and raised $1,600 for a nonprofit started by our school’s alumnus. I encourage every student to try planning an event at least once in their college career!